Royal Ballet's Longest Serving Principal Ballerina Returns Home To Australian Honours
| By Jacob Porteous
More than three decades after she left regional Queensland as a teenager to pursue her dreams on the international stage, one of Australia’s most accomplished dancers, Leanne Benjamin, will return home to be appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).
The award comes more than a decade after the London resident was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to dance, and two years after she officially hung up her pointe shoes.
Benjamin said: “I am incredibly honoured to receive this award, particularly as I am a proud Australian, and it also recognises all the sacrifices my parents made, who still live in Rockhampton, to enable me to follow my dreams.”
One of the greatest ballerinas Australia has ever produced, Leanne Benjamin was raised in Rockhampton and left Australia to join the Royal Ballet School in London at the age of 16. Within a year she had won two of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world, the Adeline Genee Gold Medal and Prix de Lausanne.
After graduating into Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in 1983, where she became a principal and moving to London Festival Ballet in 1988, she joined Deutche Oper Ballet in Berlin in 1990. During her time there Leanne worked with choreographer Kenneth MacMillan – her “mentor” – who convinced her to join The Royal Ballet in 1992. MacMillan died backstage at the Royal Opera House the night before she was due to premiere in his production of Mayerling.
Leanne has performed almost every role in the classical canon and has had an exceptional number of roles created on her by choreographers including Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon, Twyla Tharp and Alexei Ratmansky. Leanne also worked with Frederick Ashton and Ninette De Valois, one of the last dancers to have first hand experience of working with the founders of The Royal Ballet.
Leanne was twice named Female Dancer of the Year at the UK’s Critics’ Circle Awards and in 2013 won their Lifetime Achievement Award. She retired in 2013 at the age of 49, becoming the Royal Ballet’s longest-serving Principal Ballerina.
After her retirement as a dancer, Leanne graduated from the Chelsea College of Art and Design with a degree in Architectural Design. She mentors and coaches students and professional dancers, is a patron of the Tait Memorial Trust that gives an Australian student financial aid towards training at a Vocational School in London. She is a frequent public speaker represented by Chartwell Speakers and is developing a book.
“I am so grateful and proud to have enjoyed a career as a professional ballet dancer. Since my retirement as a ballerina, I am thrilled to have been able to find new ways to contribute to the ballet world, passing on the knowledge I have, and to pursue new areas of interest I can grow into. I am very excited about what the future holds.”
Leanne was appointed an AM for significant service to the performing arts, as a dancer and role model. She will receive her award at a ceremony in Sydney on April 6, with her mother and father from Rockhampton and son Thomas in the audience.